In My ‘Hood – Van Horn Sandwich Shop

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 | Posted under Brooklyn

I know that sometimes I might feature food that seems a bit hoity-toity or unfamiliar, but like everyone else, I can enjoy simple food. One afternoon I was craving something that wasn’t going to make me think very much about what I was eating. I just wanted something familiar.
I can’t think of anything more familiar than a chicken sandwich. Yup. A simple chicken sandwich. Van Horn Sandwich Shop‘s sandwich completely fit the bill.

I will say that this by far one of the best chicken sandwiches I have ever tasted. I always fear that chicken sandwiches will be DRY with no flavor especially when I see an outside coating. This chicken sandwich was so juicy, and the cabbage slaw’s tanginess added a nice acidic bite. I didn’t even add anything to the sandwich, if I remember correctly. This is one of Van Horn’s signature dishes along with their fried catfish sandwich and bacon, lettuce and pimento cheese sandwich.
Of course, I couldn’t leave with just a sandwich, so I went and had the hush puppies, too. You might want to share the order (unlike me).

Nothing beats the crispness of a well-fried hush puppy. They’re only made better by the honey-infused butter that accompanied it.

Simple indeed.

Van Horn Sandwich Shop
231 Court Street
Brooklyn, New York


Food Porn Friday – Peaches

Friday, January 20th, 2012 | Posted under Brooklyn, Food Porn Friday

I like southern food, but I had a really bad run in with grits when I was a kid. The woman who babysat me would make them, and I would refuse to eat them. Grits were like tasteless mush to me. I swore them off for years until probably a few years ago. I don’t think we really have a Caribbean equivalent (others who may know this, feel free to check me on that).

I finally had a chance to go to Peaches, a restaurant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Bed-Stuy (as it’s called here) is changing very rapidly. It’s definitely not the same Bed-Stuy that the Notorious B.I.G. once mentioned in his songs. I think it bodes well for the neighborhood, but change can be hard, too. That’s for another post.
If you are looking for a laid back southern jazz brunch, please come here. The band was great albeit a little loud for such a small space. It was still a nice atmosphere (Jazz for free? Thank you!), and I loved my dish.
Grits & Blackened Catfish
with spicy tomato salsa

I’ve said before that I’m not a southern food aficionado, but these grits were goooood. Silky and buttery. The catfish was seasoned wonderfully (I don’t care if it’s a bottom feeder). Even though I had overcome it before, I have definitely been cured of my grits phobia. 🙂

Happy Weekend!

393 Lewis Avenue
Brooklyn, New York


In My ‘Hood – Chuko

Monday, December 19th, 2011 | Posted under Brooklyn, In My 'Hood

I don’t know anything about ramen. One thing that I have learned recently is that it’s called “Japanese soul food”. People line up all over Japan for their favorite local ramen joint, which can come in the form of the most upscale to a completely Mom & Pop operation. Here’s a great Intro to Ramen video from the New York Times Travel section.
I’m still learning so much about what’s authentic and what’s not regarding ramen, but as usual, I aim to eat what tastes good. When I heard about a new ramen restaurant, Chuko, opening up near me in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, I knew I needed to go. We are a little starved for good ramen in this part of Brooklyn. Chuko was highly anticipated because the two men who’ve opened the restaurant were formerly at Morimoto. If you’ve ever watched Iron Chef, Iron Chef America or even Top Chef, you’re probably familiar with Mr. Morimoto himself. Either way, Chuko’s founder were bring a lot of buzz with them.

As per usual often in Brooklyn restaurants on a Saturday night, there was a wait; and, boy, did we wait. Even with a walk to kill time, we waited and waited some more. I will say that the staff was friendly and apologetic about the situation. The staff and service at Chuko is friendly, quick and seamless (just go earlier or later on busy evenings). Often at small restaurants, service seems to be the forgotten element, and it wasn’t at Chuko.
I was in the mood for veggies, so Husband J and his visiting friend, Davey, agreed to have some veggie appetizers.

Charred Brussel Sprouts
with fish sauce, peanuts and sliced chili
WHAT?! Brussel sprouts should always be made this way. I purposely went for the chilis while avoiding the peanuts and made sure to cover the brussels sprouts in fish sauce when I could. Asian flavors are the perfect way to highlight this fall vegetable.
Crispy Kale Salad
bacon, golden raisins, ginger dressing

When we tried this kale and the brussel sprouts, we realized that the wait was worth it. I’m still wondering how they made the kale so crispy. I was impressed that the chefs had found a use for the ubiquitous ginger salad dressing that you get at Japanese restaurants. It was stuck on the bottom of the bowl, but what a nice surprise when you reached that portion of the dish. Also bacon. ‘Nuff said.
Yes, we actually DID eat ramen.
There are three types of ramen on Chuko’s menu, and you have a choice of having them with added chicken, pork or sans meat add-ons for the vegetarians.
Our friend Davey had the Pork bone ramen (the soup base was pork bone) with poached egg. I have to say that I didn’t taste this. Davey and I are cool (I still like him even though he laughed at the Giants’ loss to the Redskins yesterday), but we’re not sharing food.

Husband J had the miso ramen that night, and I had this on a subsequent visit to Chuko.
It’s like buttah! Seriously, this soup was buttery smooth. When I think of miso, I usually think salty, but that just might be my limited understanding of the power of miso. This ramen was creamy, with al dente like noodles and crunchy corn kernels. There was something so warming and comforting about this soup. Let’s just say I understand ramen’s Japanese soul food designation now.

My dish…

Spicy Pork Ramen
red bean paste, kimchi, spicy minced pork

Noodle money shot 🙂

O.M.G. First of all, when the waitress said kimchi, she had me. I don’t think that kimchi is usually associated with ramen (Anyone? Anyone?), but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have spicy ramen AND kimchi. The soup almost resembled a creamier base than some of my favorite Korean soups (kimchi jigae in particular) with the addition of chewy noodles and a very soft poached egg. It was heavenly. Please note that this is a special, so I don’t know how much longer Chuko will serve it.
By the way, since I’m not a ramen expert, I don’t know if Chuko wins any points for authenticity. Just know that it’s good.
Winter is definitely in the air. Thank goodness for good ramen close by!
552 Vanderbilt Avenue
Brooklyn, New York


In My ‘Hood – Littleneck

Thursday, December 8th, 2011 | Posted under Brooklyn, In My 'Hood

We don’t have enough good restaurants specializing in seafood in this part of Brooklyn. When Littleneck in the Gowanus area opened a few months ago, I was happy to see that it filled a cuisine void.
Littleneck attempts to replicate a New England seafood shack, and I think they do a pretty good job, especially with the decor.
The bar

looks like a bait and tackle shop

They got the decor right, but did they get the food, right? I’d say so…by the way, I forgot my camera that night so these are all IPhone pics in a dimly lit restaurant. 🙁

When we go to seafood restaurants, I let Husband J take the lead. After his years of growing up and visiting seafood restaurants throughout New England, I will say that he knows a thing or two about raw bar offerings. We kept it light, since we were still recovering from Thanksgiving dinner. We got two oysters from Rhode Island, two from Long Island, and two from Washington state. All fresh and all good. I love oysters!

Husband J has to order the chowder. A mark of a GOOD “New England-esque” seafood restaurant has to be its New England Clam Chowder. We both figured that we couldn’t stomach a full bowl of chowder each, so we had the kitchen split the bowl for us. It was a good move that we even ordered it because this might have been one of the highlights of the whole meal.
New England Clam Chowder topped with dill

Usually I find chowders to be overly salty to the point where it really overpowers most other tastes. Yes, I know that seafood is inherently salty so that will affect the taste of the soup, but it didn’t affect Littleneck’s at all. As a fan of spice, I loved that Littleneck’s chowder was spicy, if not perhaps a little too spicy (Well, not for me. Although a dash of salt would have balanced out the spice a bit more). It was such a breath of fresh air to have a chowder with bite. Also it wasn’t unflatteringly goopy like some chowders can get. I loved it, and so did Husband J. The dill was a nice touch, too. I wonder if they will deliver this in the winter. 🙂

I think these are crab cakes with a basic slaw, if I remember correctly. Husband J had these. Good, not mind-blowing, which is fine.
A not-so great IPhone pic. Maybe I do need a DSLR? 🙂

I actually had one of Littleneck’s signature dishes, its Clam Roll. WOW!
The Clam Roll = FABULOUS!

I really do think it has to be the great mix of the tartar sauce, lightly toasted (and spot on traditional) roll with the not overly breaded and lightly fried clams that really makes this dish work. Each element is totally on point here, but my hats off to the perfectly tangy tartar sauce. Husband J had never had a clam roll before (more chowder, fresh clams or clam cakes), and even his New England seafood snobbery was put aside for a few moments. It’s not cheap for what you get on the plate, but usually neither are losbter rolls. We’ll have to get Littleneck’s lobster roll next time.

Finally, Husband J was transported back home by this:
Narragansett beer. You can take the boy of out Rhode Island, but you can’t take Rhode Island out of the boy. **shoulder shrug**
This beer brings back memories for him, especially of unsupervised high school parties.
Thank you, Littleneck, for adding something new and needed in a neighborhood that I am sure will soon be a destination (there was no wait on a Saturday night (at least not yet)). Yay!!
288 Third Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

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Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 | Posted under Brooklyn

I had been hearing about the restaurant James for some time, and I hadn’t made my way over to Prospect Heights, one neighborhood over from us, in a while. There has been so much opening in Prospect Heights lately, and I feel like I’ve got to get over there more often.

I had also read that James was rather small and that was definitely the case when I got there. Is this place any bigger than my apartment? I’m not so sure. A small restaurant like this means you need to get there early or hope you get lucky with a table (Although 2 person seatings were empty for much of the time we were there). Husband J’s parents were in town, they prefer an early dinner, and so James was a perfect choice.
The interior of James. I want their chandelier for my apartment.
We shared a few appetizers.
Carolina Shrimp with Roasted Garlic Polenta & Harissa Jus

The jus reminded me of a seafood-based soup that you would find somewhere in the south of France (or at least I imagine you would as I’ve never been to the South of France..le sigh…). I was happy to get perfect, soft polenta after having a bad experience with some a few months back. Polenta should be smooth and airy like this.
My mother-in-law and I were both smitten by the description of the special of the night, which was rabbit.
Sorry, Bugs!

If you’re wondering what rabbit is like, it tastes and has a texture just like chicken. 🙂 This dish also had Mediterranean flavors with olives and tomatoes featuring pretty prominently in the sauce. I can say that the rabbit was well-cooked and that perhaps I’ll have rabbit again as a dish.

My father-in-law had fish.
Roasted artic char, farro, roasted beets, celery leaves
I only tried a smidgen of this, but again, great cooking technique. Artic char is in the salmon family, and I loved how the chef was able to take advantage of the crispy skin and thick flesh. If you like salmon, then you’ll like artic char. I want to cook and eat more with farro, which is essentially a whole grain. The farro here was prepared simply.

I was kinda shocked that Husband J ordered roasted chicken. Like me, he usually goes for more complex dishes when eating somewhere new.
Pressed young chicken, squash, chanterelle mushrooms, wilted spinach

At the same time, this was such well-cooked chicken. Again, the chefs have found a way to make proteins the star without overcooking anything or pulling anything odd that ends up mistakenly masking its true flavors. If you can make your ingredients stand out without fancy cooking techniques, then that is a mark of good cooking. That’s what’s going on here with this chicken. I will say that my only criticism is that the skin may have been a little too salty, which is crazy since many of you know I loves me some salt. 🙂
We also got an order of herb fries. I can’t resist fries. These were large and the herbs fresh.

I also wanted extra vegetables, and we had an order of roasted beets. I have been loving beets lately.

Honestly, this is probably one of the best meals I’ve had in Brooklyn all year. This is more than a neighborhood gem, and perhaps even worth a ride out to Brooklyn on the subway. We’ll be back again (and we get to walk there :)).

605 Carlton Avenue
Brooklyn, NY


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